Mac OS X: Make Snow Leopard (and other cats) roar like Lion

Tips and tools for getting Lion-like features today

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Mission Control

Mission Control looks like it will be an interesting combination of existing Mac OS X features -- full-screen apps, Spaces (Apple's virtual desktop feature), Exposé (which allows you to see thumbnails of all Spaces, open windows and items hidden by windows, and to switch apps) and Dashboard (a feature that allows easy viewing of a range of widgets, or tiny applets) -- in a single interface.

In bringing these elements together, Apple is attempting to offer a one-click view of all running apps, windows, full-screen app views and Spaces. The ability to swipe through all these items will borrow from the iOS ability to swipe across multiple home screens.

In the new iteration, Dashboard appears to have its own Space or full-screen view instead of appearing as an overlay to the desktop as it does currently. While I'm not enamored of that particular change, overall I think the Mission Control concept is solid as a way to quickly see everything that's running on a Mac and to easily switch to the tasks you need.

I'm not aware of any existing tools that match the complete integration of these features that Apple is promising in Lion, but here are three that offer useful enhancements to Spaces and Exposé along the lines Apple seems to be planning -- and which may even be better than Apple's ultimate Mission Control solution for some users.

Hyperspaces extends and customizes Apple's implementation of Spaces. It lets you assign custom desktop pictures to each Space for easy recognition (or just tint the desktop picture of each space a different color) and name/label each Space -- useful if you routinely dedicate different Spaces to different tasks.

Hyperspaces

Hyperspaces lets you customize OS X's Spaces feature for better navigation. Click to view larger image.

It also improves navigation among Spaces by letting you configure a virtual map of where spaces are in relation to each other, and it offers hot keys for common Spaces tasks, such as adding or removing Spaces and showing or hiding desktop icons in a Space.

Hyperspaces works with OS X Leopard or later and costs $13; there's also a free demo version that lets you customize up to three Spaces.

SaneDesk is another Spaces enhancer that allows on-the-fly creation and deletion of Spaces. It supports an unlimited number of Spaces, each of which can be customized with its own desktop picture, set of desktop icons and Dock (complete with unique Dock items and on-screen positioning). SaneDesk works with OS X Leopard or later and costs $16; a limited free trial version is also available.

Switché is a Snow Leopard-only utility that builds on the Exposé feature. It uses Apple's Cover Flow feature to show large, smooth 3D previews of running apps, windows or Spaces, allowing you to switch among them in an intuitive manner (similar to the swiping feature of Mission Control). Switché costs $8 and offers an unlimited free trial version.

Auto-save and Versions

Auto-save isn't a new concept, nor is it specific to iOS. Many applications offer an option to either automatically save files at a set interval or to auto-save a backup (without changing the original file) that can be accessed if the application crashes.

Lion taps into that auto-save functionality in a new feature called Versions, which lets you view all past iterations of a document or other file that you've made changes to. In a way, it's an extension of Apple's Time Machine, which allows you to locate and restore files from a backup. Time Machine comes in very handy when you want to get back a file you've deleted or find an earlier version of a file before you made modifications to it.

However, while Time Machine makes hourly backups of each document, it only keeps them for 24 hours; it permanently saves only one backup of each document per day. Versions, on the other hand, saves and keeps a version each time you open or save a file. If a document is open for an extended period of time, a new version is stored every hour that it's open.

There are a couple of ways to get similar features right now.

For applications that don't offer an auto-save feature, there's ForeverSave, a utility that can provide auto-save features systemwide to any Mac running OS X Leopard or later. You can select which applications can auto-save and when they auto-save (the default being anytime you switch applications).

ForverSave

ForeverSave brings auto-save and version-tracking capabilities to Mac applications that don't already include them. Click to view larger image.

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